The most impressive collegian playing at the FIBA World Cup has been Yanick Moreira, and he put together one of the best performances of the entire event on Thursday.
The rising senior big man at SMU finished with 38 points and 15 boards, 10 of which came on the offensive end of the floor, as Angola knocked off Australia, 91-83, in the final game of group play. Moreira had 34 points in the second half.
(*One thing that is worth noting here is that a loss might have been what the Aussies were playing for. Finishing second in Group D would mean they would have to play the Americans in the quarterfinals of bracket play. A third place finish in the group means the Aussies miss out of Team USA until the semis.)
This kind of performance from Moreira is a very positive sign for the Mustangs. Larry Brown’s club already has one of the better big men in the country in Markus Kennedy, the former Villanova Wildcat, and may end up with former Texas Tech big man Jordan Tolbert eligible for this season as well. Even if Tolbert is forced to sit out the 2014-2015 season, SMU may end up having the best front court in the American.
Losing Emmanuel Mudiay hurt, there is no question about that. But with Nic Moore and Keith Frazier back and Xavier transfer Justin Martin eligible this season, there is enough talent on that roster for Brown to turn them into a top 15-caliber team.
We answer all of those questions for you right here:
Is Gonzaga a fraud?: So let me get this straight: You think that Gonzaga is a fraud because, after winning 29 straight games and totally outclassing everyone in their conference for two months, they lost to a program that has beaten them four times in the last four years? Come on.
The Zags are still sitting atop KenPom’s efficiency ratings. They’re still sitting atop Sagarin’s ratings. They’re still the second-favorite team to win the national title, according to Vegas Insider’s futures. The team at the top of that list, Duke, took a similarly awful loss at home earlier this year, falling to an N.C. State team that has won one game in the six weeks since. You might have asked if Duke was a fraud then. You would’ve been wrong about that, too. West Virginia lost at home to Oklahoma earlier this year. Are they frauds, too?
The fact of the matter is that the Zags blew a 16-point lead at home to a team that lost to San Diego earlier this year. That’s really bad. No one is trying to sugar coat it. It’s also the first time this season that they’ve put out this kind of a performance. The first time in 29 games. The first time in four months.
Weird things happen in college basketball. This is probably one of them.
Did Gonzaga need to take a loss before the start of the tournament?: No.
I hate that line of thinking. Taking a loss is not some kind team-defining wake-up call, especially not when it’s a program like Gonzaga, a program that is defined as much by their lack of March success as anything. Fair or not, that’s how the Zags are viewed nationally, even if that perception — as my buddy Gary Parrish of CBS Sports detailed here — is inaccurate based on the actual tournament results. But the fact remains that this program has never been to a Final Four. Wichita State has. Butler has. VCU has. Those are the teams from outside the establishment that have played in April.
Gonzaga has not
And that is the monkey on this team’s back.
Yes, having a ‘1’ in the loss column is going to take some of the attention and some of the pressure off in March, but that’s not going to change the fact that this is the best Gonzaga team that Mark Few has ever had. That’s going to be the narrative enveloping this team in March, and heading into the tournament with a loss isn’t going to change that.
Are they still going to be a No. 1 seed?: Probably.
The Zags would have been a lock to be a No. 1 seed out west had they entered Selection Sunday without a loss to their name. Barring some kind of insanity, they will probably still be a No. 1 seed if they can win the WCC tournament, especially if that title includes another win over Saint Mary’s. Where things get tricky is if the Zags drop a game in the WCC tournament. In that case, whoever ends up winning the Pac-12 tournament will probably have a strong argument to be seeded above the Zags.
Can they be trusted to win a national title?: This is where things get tricky.
I think the idea of needing to take a loss late in the season is dumb, but I do subscribe to the thinking that Gonzaga needed to be tested in a close game before taking a loss means that their season is over. The Zags hadn’t trailed in the second half for 15 straight games before Saturday, and it showed. They lacked poise down the stretch. They made defensive errors. They turned the ball over. They struggled to find good shots in their offense. For lack of a better way to phrase it, the Zags looked overwhelmed by the moment.
Will they learn from this? Because they need to.
But there’s more to it than just having to learn. The concern with this Gonzaga team is whether or not they have the guard play to be able to create offense down the stretch against a set, elite defense. BYU’s defense is not what one would call elite. If the Zags cannot score against them down the stretch, what are they going to do against some of the best back courts in the country?
No. 1 Gonzaga loses their first game of the season at home to BYU
Despite jumping out to an 18-2 lead on BYU in The Kennel, No. 1 and previously undefeated Gonzaga found a way to lose their first game of the season late on Saturday night, falling 79-71 to the Cougars behind 29 points and 11 boards from Eric Mika.
Tyler Haws added 17 points and Elijah Bryant chipped in with 14, but this game was less about BYU than it was about Gonzaga.
The concern with this Zags team is that whether or not they have the guard play to be able to create offense in critical moments, and on Saturday, that looked like one of their biggest issues. Gonzaga’s offense went dead down the stretch. If they weren’t getting shots in transition, they were trying to run their sets through Przemek Karnowski in the post. That’s not an awful idea — he’s awesome — but BYU is not a good defensive team. If Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins struggled with their ability to beat Nick Emery and T.J. Haws off the dribble and couldn’t find a way to finish around Eric Mika and a member of BYU’s football team, what happens when they go up against, say, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk or Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham?
It’s a real concern, and every got a glimpse of that on Saturday night.
The other problem: Was I the only one that thought the Zags looked a little tight down the stretch, like they weren’t comfortable playing in a close game like that? Gonzaga shoots 73.8 percent from the free throw line on the season and shot 16-for-29 on Saturday. They’re 32nd nationally in three-point shooting and finishing Saturday 3-for-16 from beyond the arc. They missed makeable shots in the post. No one stepped up and took control down the stretch. Who is the alpha-dog?
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s what the view looked like from my couch.
As far as how Gonzaga’s national title hopes are affected by this, I’m not too concerned. I think ditching the pressure of chasing a perfect season will probably be a net positive in the long run, and if anything, this loss made it painfully obvious for Mark Few what he needs to work on with this team. I don’t buy into the idea that “you need to lose” before the tournament, but I do think Gonzaga needed to get tested like this before the losses meant the end of their season.
The biggest concern is going to be whether or not this costs Gonzaga a No. 1 seed, but I still don’t think that it does, at least not yet. I’m not sure that Oregon, Arizona or UCLA has surpassed them, and the gap between Baylor and the No. 1 seed line only gets bigger with each passing loss. The Zags should be a No. 1 seed if they win the WCC tournament.
And to be frank, this loss doesn’t change the way that I feel about Gonzaga. They still are one of the two or three best teams in college basketball, a team that is good enough to win a national title.
But what this loss does do is make me less confident in the ability of the Zags to get it done.
Because all the issues we talked about with Gonzaga came to fruition Saturday night:
TUCSON, Ariz. — Thomas Welsh scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and No. 5 UCLA dominated the offensive boards to beat No. 4 Arizona 77-72 in a Pac-12 showdown Saturday night.
The Bruins (26-3, 13-3) snapped Arizona’s 21-game home court winning streak and dropped the Wildcats (26-4, 15-2) into a tie with Oregon for first place in the Pac-12 heading into the final week of the regular season. The Ducks hold the tiebreaker by beating Arizona in the teams’ only meeting.
UCLA, avenging a 96-85 home loss to Arizona on Jan. 21, trailed 53-49 at the half but took control with a 19-4 second-half run.
Allonzo Trier scored a career-high 28 for the Wildcats. Parker Jackson-Cartwright added 11, and Lauri Markkanen had 10 for Arizona.
Five players reached double figures for the Bruins, led by Bryce Alford’s 15. TJ Leaf and Aaron Holiday added 12 apiece, and Lonzo Ball had 11 along with eight assists.
UCLA had 19 second-chance points to Arizona’s four. In the second half, the Bruins outrebounded the Wildcats 9-1 on the offensive boards.
The Bruins switched to a zone most of the second half and stretched the lead to 11 twice late in the game, the last at 73-62 on Welsh’s’ inside basket with 4:38 to play before Arizona managed one final charge, finishing the game on a 10-4 run.
Markkanen’s two free throws cut the Bruins’ lead to 75-72 with 29.2 seconds to play. Holiday missed the first of a one-and-one free throw opportunity and Arizona had a chance to tie it but Kadeem Allen, with a dislocated pinkie finger on his shooting hand, threw up an air ball from 3-point range.
After trailing by as many as seven points, Arizona outscored the Bruins 10-1 over the last 2 1-2 minutes of the first half to lead 43-39 at the break. Jackson-Cartwright scored seven in the surge.
UCLA took the lead for good, 54-53, on Welsh’s basket with 12:52 to play.
With the victory, UCLA had come back to beat all three teams that have beaten them this season. After a two-point loss at Oregon on Dec. 28, the Bruins came back to beat the Ducks in Los Angeles 82-79 on Feb. 9.
USC upset the Bruins 84-76 on Jan. 25 but UCLA came back to rout the Trojans 102-70 on Feb. 18.
The outcome in Tucson could set the stage for a rematch between the two teams in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournaments.
Assuming, both teams win out, Arizona would be the tournament’s No. 2 seed and UCLA the No. 3. Oregon would get the No. 1 seed and, barring upsets, would face the UCLA-Arizona winner in the conference title game.
UCLA: The Bruins return home to face Washington on Wednesday night.
Arizona: The Wildcats play their final regular-season game of the season at Arizona State on Thursday.
No. 5 UCLA wins at No. 4 Arizona thanks to defense, rebounding?
The Showtime UCLA Bruins, the team that has defined the pace-and-space movement in college basketball, the nation’s most lethal offensive attack, landed their second elite road win of the season on Saturday night, going into Tucson and knocking off No. 4 Arizona thanks to their ability to grind out stops defensively, milk the clock and crash the offensive glass.
Who saw that happening?
The fifth-ranked Bruins avenged a beatdown that they took at the hands of Arizona a month ago, going into the McKale Center and handing the Wildcats just their second Pac-12 loss of the season, 77-72. The difference came in the second half, with just under 15 minutes left, when head coach Steve Alford made the change from a man-to-man defense to a 3-2 zone that just had Arizona completely flummoxed. The rhythm that the Wildcats had offensively completely disappeared, but that wasn’t just the work of UCLA’s defense.
Part of it was their offense, too.
Let me digress, for a second: Part of what makes Virginia’s defense so consistently successful is that the Cavaliers make you work on the defensive end of the floor, using up as much of the shot clock as possible. The reason is mostly that Tony Bennett wants his team to control pace and to work the ball around until they have the perfect shot, not just a good shot, but the by-product is that is just takes the air out of the ball for the team that is forced to spend that much time defending. Every. Single. Possession.
This is what UCLA started doing. If they weren’t getting layups in transition, they were running their sets, working the ball into Thomas Welsh and T.J. Leaf, trying to get Lonzo Ball isolated against the smaller Parker Jackson-Cartwright, milking the clock for all that it was worth.
That was before the offensive rebounds.
UCLA grabbed nine of them in the second half — Arizona half just seven defensive rebounds in total, including three straight at the end of the game — and scored 14 second chance points in the second half. These weren’t just tip-ins at the rim. These were hustle plays, UCLA beating out Arizona’s big men to secure a board and work 30 more seconds off of the clock. Those are the back-breakers. Those are the plays that allow a visiting team to keep momentum in their favor and keep the home crowd from getting into the game. Those are the plays that helped prevent Arizona from looking like they had any clue how to attack a zone in the second half.
And that’s just not what we’ve become accustomed to seeing the Bruins do this season.
They run and they chuck threes and they let Lonzo Ball do what he can do and they don’t play much defense. That’s exactly who they were in the first half. They won this game because that’s who they weren’t for the final 15 minutes.
It brings us to a fascinating situation with the Pac-12.
Only one team from the conference is going to get a top four seed in the West Region. Whether it’s a No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, you will only see one of Arizona, UCLA and Oregon — all of whom have essentially locked up a top three seed at this point — in the same bracket as Gonzaga on Selection Sunday. That’s how the bracketing rules work. This is incredibly advantageous because of where their games would be played: In Sacramento (or Salt Lake City) the first weekend, San Jose the second weekend and Phoenix for the Final Four. Not only would all of those games be fairly local — particularly for UCLA and Arizona — but they would be played on West Coast time, an underrated advantage for teams who don’t have to readjust their body-clock to a 10 p.m. ET tip-off time.
The only way that this scenario wouldn’t play out is if a Pac-12 team climbs up to the No. 1 seed line where undefeated Gonzaga also lurks, but as of today — which is a long, long, LONG way from Selection Sunday — it seems like those four No. 1 seeds are pretty set in stone.
UCLA has now won at Kentucky and at Arizona. That’s the best pair of road wins of any team in college basketball. They beat Oregon at home. They’re 26-3 on the season. If they’re going to win the Pac-12 tournament title, they’re probably going to have to go through Arizona and Oregon to do it.
And if they pull that off, the Bruins could very well end up being the top seed coming out of the conference.
They wouldn’t have to leave California until the Final Four in Phoenix.
And had they lost at Arizona on Saturday, I’m not sure it would have been possible.
So while the Bruins were already more-or-less out of the Pac-12 regular season title running, this win had oh-so-much more meaning that simply quieting a rival on their home floor.
No. 3 Kansas clinches outright Big 12 regular season title
AUSTIN, Texas — Josh Jackson scored 18 points and Frank Mason III added 16 to help No. 3 Kansas beat Texas 77-67 on Saturday night to secure its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship outright.
Devonte Graham and Dwight Coleby added 12 points apiece for the Jayhawks (26-3, 14-2 Big 12) who have won six straight games.
Jarrett Allen led Texas (10-19, 4-12) with 20 points. Andrew Jones added 18 for the Longhorns, losers of five straight games.
Texas committed 15 turnovers, six by guard Kerwin Roach Jr., and Kansas converted them into 28 points.
Kansas used a 12-0 push in the first half to take a 13-point lead before settling for a 40-31 edge at the break. Coleby, a little-used junior forward who averages 1.2 points a game, scored 10 in the half, converting 4 of 5 shots inside. Kansas had a 24-8 edge in points in the paint. His 12 points matched a career best.
Texas shot four air balls and committed nine turnovers in the half — five of them Kansas steals.
The Longhorns cut the lead to five with a 3-point basket by Jacob Young midway through the second half, but Kansas responded with an 8-1 run and eventually led by 15 with less than three minutes remaining. Mason and Jackson scored four points apiece during that span.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have won 12 of their last 13 games against Texas, including seven straight, giving them a 29-8 edge since the Big 12 began competition in 1996-97. Texas did, however finish in a first-place tie with the Jayhawks during two of these 13 straight Kansas Big 12 regular season championships — in 2006 and 2008. The Longhorns beat Kansas in Austin both seasons.
Texas: The Longhorns are 4-4 in Big 12 home games. Before Saturday, their largest margin of victory or defeat was four points.
Kansas is at home against Oklahoma on Monday. The Jayhawks beat Oklahoma 81-70 on Jan. 10 with Mason scoring 28 points, including five 3-point baskets.
Texas is at Texas Tech on Monday. The Longhorns beat the Red Raiders 62-58 on Feb. 1 in Austin. Eric Davis Jr. made a big 3-point basket with 28.8 seconds remaining for Texas, which does not have a road win this season.